December 06, 2023

Warren, Kaine, Hirono, Blumenthal, Murray, Duckworth Urge Pentagon to Implement Reforms and Address Substandard Housing Conditions for Military Families

“New information about the DoD’s failure to properly implement these reforms freshly raises questions about the Department’s commitment to supporting the health and safety of service members and their families” “It is crucial for DoD to take additional actions to increase oversight of privatized housing and ensure that service members and their families have access to safe and comfortable housing on base.” Senator Warren to Highlight Concerns at Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services Subcommittee

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C.  – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Personnel, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Readiness, and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting information on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) plans to address the unhealthy prevalence of mold, lead-based paint, and asbestos in housing for America’s service members, as well as concerns regarding the distrust and confusion surrounding the formal dispute resolution process that  military families can use to address disputes with the private housing companies. 

“We write in regard to concerning reports about asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold in military housing and DoD’s implementation of the formal dispute resolution process available to tenants in privatized military housing,” wrote the lawmakers. “We seek further information regarding steps that the Department of Defense are taking to address asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold in military housing units and improve implementation of the formal dispute resolution process.” 

A 2023 Army Audit found that the Army’s inspection program for asbestos and lead-based paint had failed to adequately ensure that homes were safe for families. The Army Audit Agency uncovered that 41 percent of the homes it reviewed “had no documented survey identifying the home’s asbestos risk areas.”

“We are highly alarmed by the consistent failure of the Army housing office inspectors to properly assess these homes and protect service members and their families from the hazards of asbestos and lead-based paint,” wrote the lawmakers.

Similarly, the DoD has failed to ensure that military families’ homes are free of mold. A family living on Marine Corps Base in Hawaii experienced a variety of concerning health conditions from exposure to mold such as “hair loss, bluish-gray skin, heart palpitations, fatigue, worsening headaches, rashes, and stomach problems.” The 2022 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that almost a quarter of military families had “been exposed to environmental toxins” in their homes, with a 2021 survey respondent indicating that, “(i)t is almost as if the privatized housing office feels as though there will not be another large-scale inspection, so they just turn their blind eye to service members’ complaints of black mold growing in their homes.”

To address these problems, Congress established a formal dispute resolution process. However, the Government Accountability Office identified broader confusion among both military families and military housing officials on its implementation. Military families have also expressed concerns that they must agree to keeping any formal dispute resolution process confidential upon signing their lease, and the tendency for the process to favor the private housing companies.

“The Department of Defense has a long way to go to fully implement reforms and restore military families’ confidence,” wrote the lawmakers. “Military families should not be forced into a confidentiality clause if they choose to use the formal dispute resolution process to address unsafe housing conditions, and the Department needs to take steps to improve this process and protect service members and their families.”

Senator Warren has consistently been a leader in the fight to provide safe housing for military families:

  • In October 2023, Senators Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Secretary Austin raising concerns that Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) families had to pay out of pocket to modify their homes to meet their families’ needs and asking for additional information about DoD’s oversight of the program.  Senators Warren and Tillis previously wrote to private military housing companies in 2020 and DoD in 2021, raising concerns over the lack of accessible and adaptable housing, and the continued lack of oversight of EFMP.
  • In June 2023, Senators Warren, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) reintroduced the bipartisan Military Housing Readiness Council Act, which would provide a platform for oversight and accountability of privatized military housing to give military families a voice and bring together experts to ensure military families have the safe housing they deserve.
  • In December 2022, Senators Warren, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio.) sent a letter to Secretary Austin expressing concern over reports that military families are being forced to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with privatized military housing companies in order to receive compensation for poor housing conditions. In the letter, the lawmakers urge theDoD to put an end to these practices.
  • In August 2022, Senators Warren and Tillis, United States Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), members of the House Armed Services Committee, and Representatives Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) introduced the Military Housing Readiness Council Act, legislation that would ensure oversight and accountability on safe housing conditions for service members and military families. The legislation would create a Military Housing Readiness Council comprised of DoD officials, service members, military families, and military housing experts to ensure ongoing oversight of deficiencies in privatized military housing. The Council’s mandate includes responsibility for full implementation of a tenants’ bill of rights, completion of the public complaint database, and public reporting on all its activities. The bill was included in the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023.
  • In June 2022, as the Senate began negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Senator Warren announced key priorities for the Fiscal Year 2023 NDAA. Senator Warren is pushing for eight of her bills to help prevent civilian harm, electrify the military's vehicle fleet, prevent conflicts of interests and corruption at the Department of Defense, prohibit price gouging by defense contractors, expand medical care for military families, lower the costs of prescription drugs, and reduce America's reliance on foreign countries for critical drugs.
  • In February 2022, during a SASC hearing, Senator Warren pressed Robert Storch, nominee to be Inspector General for the DoD, to improve military housing quality for servicemembers and their families by quickly implementing a Tenant Bill of Rights and creating the housing quality complaint database required by the Senator’s fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act amendment. 
  • In January 2022, Senator Warren requested Secretary Austin for his public commitment to respond and make a priority to her requests about military housing issues during a SASC hearing.
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren announced improving military housing as one of her key priorities for FY 2022 NDAA. 
  • In March 2021, Senators Warren and Tillis sent letters to Secretary Austin and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge seeking information regarding the availability of accessible housing and accommodations for military families with disability-related needs living in on-base installations owned and managed by private military housing companies. 
  • In January 2021, Senator Warren asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III for his public commitment to respond to her requests regarding military housing issues and to pledge that he will make fixing this problem a priority. In response, the Secretary committed to doing both.
  • In December 2020, Senators Warren and Tillis sent letters to top executives at six major private military housing companies requesting information about the on-base housing units they developed and manage to determine whether military families are being denied access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant housing. 
  • In February 2020, Senator Warren and then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland sent a letter to DoD urging the agency to use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) Consumer Complaint Database as a model when implementing its new military housing quality database for servicemembers and their families. The new required housing quality database results from an amendment led by Senator Warren to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in response to widespread reports of substandard, privatized military housing for service members.
  • In July 2019, Senator Warren and then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland announced that several provisions from the Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act which the lawmakers introduced in April 2019, passed the Senate as part of the FY2020 NDAA.
  • In May 2019, Senator Warren released the findings from her three-month long investigation of the deeply flawed Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) and of five private companies that have contracts with the military services to provide on-base housing under the program.
  • In February 2019, Senator Warren sent letters to five of the nation's largest private military housing developers to request information about their partnership agreements with the Department of Defense (DoD). The senator’s letter follows a series of disturbing new reports that reveal unsafe and unsanitary conditions in privatized, on-base housing for military personnel and their families.